Union bosses claim that members are remaining steadfastly loyal in the face of “anti-union attacks” and recent adverse Supreme Court decisions. Actually, much of that solidarity derives from devious schemes and disinformation campaigns that the bosses are employing to lock workers into membership and dues paying.
In Connecticut, AFSCME, Council 4 is sending members letters denying their requests to resign because they “missed the window.” Council 4 points to membership cards explaining in fine print that membership is irrevocable from year to year unless a member submits a written resignation request within a 30-day “window” each year. The window is not uniform. It is different for each member, depending upon when he or she joined the union. Naturally, it is easy to miss the window.
Public sector union bosses launched this “narrow opt-out window” gambit in anticipation of a defeat in Janus v. AFSCME last June in which the Supreme Court did decide against AFSCME, holding that public sector workers who do not join, or who resign from, a union cannot be forced to pay fees to the union.
The obvious design of the union scheme was to forestall an immediate mass exodus and a crippling loss of member dues and nonmember fees. However, in designing this scheme, union chiefs didn’t anticipate an important part of the Janus decision, namely an opt-in mandate that many lawyers believe nullifies the opt-out-window gambit.
Specifically, the Janus decision requires that “employees clearly and affirmatively consent before any money is taken from them.”
The issue is that employees cannot give genuine consent before they know their rights — in this instance, their new right under Janus to not pay nonmember fees. So membership agreements with highly restrictive resignation provisions that were signed before the Janus decision are suspect.
Before Janus, there was little point to resigning, since nonmember fees were not much less than member dues. Now that workers can save all their money by resigning, the right to resign is much more meaningful. Around the country, workers are taking unions to court after having their resignation requests rejected on the basis of having “missed the window.”
The issue is not merely a clear-cut disagreement over whether the pre-Janus membership card provisions for resignation are valid or not. It is that the cards themselves are marvels of confusion and disinformation, beyond what would reflect an understandable disinclination on the part of unions to help workers resign.
AFSCME, Council 4’s resignation card states that membership is irrevocable for “one year from the date of execution, or until the termination date of the collective bargaining agreement (if there is one).” So, which date applies? And how many workers know the end date of the collective bargaining agreement?
The card states that membership is irrevocable “unless I give the Employer and the Union written notice of revocation,” requiring workers to give notice to two parties, increasing the odds that one notice or the other won’t be compliant.
Interestingly, AFSCME has hauled the Town of Wallingford before the State Labor Board because it stopped deducting union dues from the paychecks of two employees at their request. AFSCME says “the two employees were supposed to go through the union,” according to a report in the Record Journal newspaper. As of publication, the board has not issued a decision.
If all this sounds like a confusing set of hoops for workers to jump through, it is.
Contrast these hoops with the easy organizing rules for which union bosses always lobby, including “card check.” Card check enables union organizers to confront a worker, put a membership card in front of him and watch whether he signs or not. It guarantees intimidation. Card check is the exact opposite of secret ballot elections, which are so essential to genuine democracy.
So, easy check-in, but Hotel California check-out rules. These Hotel California type arrangements — and worse — have been in full operation in several other states, including Washington state as chronicled in National Review. Now they have come to Connecticut.
Union “solidarity” is based, in good part, upon hardball tactics that union bosses would prefer that the public — and most union members — not find out about.
Apart from bad publicity, these tactics expose unions to real liability, in the form of litigation seeking refunds of past dues and fees collected in violation of labor law and Supreme Court decisions. Nationwide, workers have lodged over 20 cases seeking refunds, including class action lawsuits for over $100 million in California.
In tragic irony, future members may wind up paying dues simply to make refunds to past members, all because of the unscrupulous and reckless treatment of workers by union officials supposed to look out for their better interests.
Red Jahncke is president of The Townsend Group International LLC.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.